The Senate will not be holding plenary sessions from August 9 to 23 because Metro Manila will once again be placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the strictest form of lockdown in the country.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri initially told reporters on Monday afternoon, August 2, that plenary sessions would be suspended from August 9 to 11 only. But at 9:30 pm, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he was extending the suspension of sessions until August 23.
Sotto made the decision after House Secretary General Mark Llandro Mendoza called him to ask what would be the upper chamber's health protocols while Metro Manila was under ECQ. There would also be no plenary sessions in the House of Representatives during the Metro Manila lockdown.
"Yes, House Sec Gen called to ask our protocol. I told him I will suspend on Wednesday 'til August 23 without prejudice to my calling a possible session before the 23rd if it becomes necessary," the Senate President said in a Viber message to reporters.
President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to place Metro Manila under ECQ from August 6 to 20, with a period of additional restrictions the week before, to prepare for a possible surge in coronavirus cases due to the highly infectious Delta variant.
The Senate headquarters is located in Pasay City.
Sotto said Senate committee hearings may proceed, but they must be conducted purely online.
Zubiri earlier said the Senate leadership is still checking if committee hearings would still be allowed to proceed during the ECQ period. This is because Senate stenographers would need to have access to their equipment should committee hearings proceed.
“What’s tricky about the conduct of hearings is that we still need stenographers and of course they can’t come to the Senate. So how will we proceed? They don’t have equipment at home. So perhaps we won’t have hearings as well,” said Zubiri in a mix of English and Filipino.
The Senate had previously imposed varying degrees of lockdown since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Philippines.
In March, the chamber had to bar both senators and Senate staff from entering the premises for several days after some employees tested positive for the virus.
The Senate has been following a hybrid set-up for its plenary sessions and committee hearings these past months to minimize the number of people physically interacting in its headquarters.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Zubiri attend the plenary sessions in person along with a select number of senators. The rest join the proceedings via teleconferencing.
As of Sunday, August 1, the Philippines has logged over 1.59 million cases of COVID-19, with the country recording 8,735 new cases of the virus, the highest one-day tally in over two months.
As of Thursday, July 29, the country has recorded 216 known cases of the Delta variant. There are concerns that there may be more Delta variant cases, as the Philippine Genome Center is only sequencing a small percentage of positive cases. – Rappler.com